Already known as the 4th Industrial Revolution, this technology has been researched and improved since the 1980s. However, it was in the 1990s that the layered construction technique was disseminated. Today, it is already possible to create objects with a small 3D domestic printer.
Research never stops and is not limited to scientists and engineers. For instance, designers, doctors, entrepreneurs, or curious people are increasingly interested in digital designs, creating new pieces, printing ideas, transforming into a reality. The sky is the limit!
There are countless possibilities to be explored. Jewelry, sculptures, food, clothing, weapons, appliances, toys, architectural models, machine parts, among many others, causes great interest in 3D printing technology.
In this blog post, we will focus on one very particular and huge possibility: 3D Printing electronics.
3D Printing market bets
A lot of research has been progressing in several areas like the health sector, with mostly invests in 3D Printing projects. Plastics and metals can be used to print implants and prostheses according to computerized images of a patient so that the copies are faithful to the original. There is also the hope of printing pieces with raw material from living cells, which would significantly impact the transplant queues around the world.
In addition to enabling the printing of these different products, electronic equipment printing is one of the major issues in the market.
3D Printing electronics applications
We separate some cases that are happening, or it was a success. Check it out!
Voxel8’s conductive inks
Voxel8, an American startup, focused on making the electronic technique more promising by developing a machine that could print highly conductive inks for circuits and plastic. Its silver inks are known to be up to 5,000 times more conductive than those currently available on the market, in addition to not oxidizing after printing. In this way, it is possible to print circuit boards, alternate with plastic materials, and form an electronic prototype. The company works with the sale of this ink and a 3D desktop printer. The new 3D printer, which can also use PLA plastic, has a 4.3-inch touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and USB port.
Also, Voxel8 announced a partnership with Autodesk to develop a new design tool called Project Wire, which will create electronic devices printed in 3D. With this, companies allow the creation of three-dimensional parts with integrated circuits. Still, it has plans to create equipment for industrial manufacturing. The possibility of parallel printing of different materials generates a new purpose for the market, which currently invests in research to solidify this possibility and expand its access.
The company was founded by Jennifer Lewis, a professor at Harvard’s Wyss School of Biologically Inspired Engineering, and has mechanical, software, and material engineers from Harvard and MIT and a business team of professionals from Harvard Business School.
Dragonfly Pro 2020
Harris Corporation, a leading communications company, created radio frequency (RF) electronics using a 3D printer.
The printer, dubbed Dragonfly Pro 2020, comes from Nano Dimension, a major supplier of electronic components and additives
The first tests indicated something very positive: 3D printed circuit boards (RF) had results comparable to conventionally produced boards. The company will present all the results at the next IEEE Radio and Radio Symposium.
Amit Dror, CEO of Nano Dimension, explains 3D printing production makes it easier to create faster prototypes and reduces research and development costs, allowing you to create more proof of concept for testing.
Nowadays, both companies set a partnership to research and develop the 3D printing of double-sided circuit boards and multi-layer circuits aiming to reduce production costs and have better digital distribution and RF signals for Harris’ communications systems mostly used in space.
3D Aerosol Jet
Optomec, one of the biggest manufacturer and distributor of 3D printers electronics developed an Aerosol-Jet-based using 3D printing technology capable of connecting different substracts and components to do electronic products like resistors, antennas, capacitors and film transistors which they have already accomplished. It can print different subtract like ceramics, plastics, and metallic compositions. It can also handle complex geometries assemblies like 3D printed conformal antennas over mobile device enclosures decreasing the production cost of these devices.
The company also aims to work with IoT (Internet of things) projects, starting with devices interconnection using sensors and antennas. As a 3D printing project should be, they expect to provide a lot of IoT applications using rapid prototyping to achieve many possibilities with a lower cost and energy.
3D Skin Integrated Circuit Board
As part of a revolutionary program, researchers at the University of Minnesota have used a 3D print in an altered way, with the low price, to get the first integrated circuit directly on the skin of a man.
This technology can be used by soldiers on the battlefield to print electronic sensors on the body. Therefore, soldiers can detect chemical or biological agents.
One of the main innovations of the new 3D printing techniques on the skin is that the printer uses computer visualization to see and adjust movements in real-time. Also, the researchers were able to biologically print the wound cells on the skin of a mouse. This technique can provide new treatments for wound healing and direct impression of grafts in the case of skin diseases.
DIY 3D Printer
This project brings perspective on 3D printed electronics future, even outside industry issues. 3D printed electronics is getting on as a hobby and, at the same, a professional service opportunity
Adham Rabah used a DIY 3D printer to print PCBs. He explains that it took him many trials along a year to develop a reliable method. He tested different components, parts, surfaces, and 3D modeling setups until he got it.
He mixed old processes and new ones and created PCBs from the standard copper-clad phenolic board and copper-clad boards for PCB etching using standard PLA filament.
This innovative method saved time and material and also made him produce more PCB boards.
Conductive Thermoplastic Materials
Duke University engineers are working on 3D printed electronic components using dual-material FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) technology infused with graphene, copper, and carbon black. Until now, thew found positive results. Tests using carbon black and graphene have proven fragile; in the meantime, the copper filament is much more flexible, bending over 500 times without changing any characteristics. It showed that copper-infused thermoplastic filaments could provide impedances similar to conventional one at frequencies greater than 1 MHz, a prerequisite for radio frequency applications.
Their capacitors and inductors are predictably tunable through modification of device geometry and selection of print material. This is concrete proof that 3D printing electronics (using resilient components like copper)a definite possibility.
UC Berkley engineers team has been working on 3D printed microelectronics circuity integrated with wireless sensors. They are evaluating how this is possible. They reported as successfully producing microelectronics components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors, as well as circuits and passive wireless sensors, which have demonstrated to be effective as quality control components in the liquid foods industry.
It was created using FDM technology, a multiple-nozzle system, and a printing resolution of 30 μm.
3D printers take another step towards autonomy. Researchers at Princeton University, in the United States, can print QD-LEDs, the quantum dot LEDs. The technique shows the device’s ability to create electronic components and semiconductors, which signals that users can make complete electronic equipment at home shortly.
QD-LEDs are a new, much more efficient, and cheaper type of LED that uses crystals to generate light. The technology guarantees much more vivid colors and energy consumption up to 10 times lower than the conventional LCD, for example.
Scientists achieved this feat by carrying out a printing process that unlocks the various elements present in an electronic component. The electrodes, polymers, and semiconductors needed to create a functional LED, have been dissolved in specific solvents. Thus, these materials did not interact with each other during the printing process.
These elements are printed in a cohesive structure with the help of software. It controls printing and creates a pattern for the QD-LED to work correctly. At the moment, the technique already allows printing on curved surfaces, for example.
Among the most impactful applications of this technology are bionic medical implants that could use light to stimulate nerves, contact lenses with built-in displays and even apply technologies such as solar panels, and several other electronic components, on surfaces and dimensions that were before impractical.
3d printing electronics – “custom eletronics” & “metamorphic carbon”
Have you ever imagined printing your mouse or a game controller perfectly suited to your hands? Or you can even create your electronic device type – all using free hardware and software. This is what Professor Simon Leigh, from the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom is proposing. Leigh’s team has already printed the first game controllers on demand, using a commercially purchased 3D printer. Industrial prototyping equipment can now be purchased commercially, or you can choose to manufacture your 3D printer at home.
But the right material for what Dr. Leigh calls “custom electronics” was missing. He invented “metamorphic carbon,” which allows printing tracks and sensors as part of any 3D printed object.
The new material allows printing touch-sensitive areas to form control buttons or keyboards. Metamorphic carbon is a thermoplastic and conductive composite, making it capable of detecting mechanical stresses and changes in capacitance – fundamental elements to create smooth, buttonless interfaces.
By supporting the open hardware movement, the researcher is taking care to ensure that his printed, electronic circuits can be interfaced with open design electronics and controlled by free, open-source libraries. In the short term, he believes that printed, electronic circuits may help to train new engineers.
Benefits of 3D Printing Electronics
Among the advantages presented by this new technology are the speed and the relatively low cost of prototyping, since it allows products to be manufactured about 25 to 100 times faster than other methods, still allowing innovative, personalized and applicable geometries in several areas such as health, automation, and aviation industries, among others.
For this, the accessibility of raw materials has been growing, the most common types being ABS and PLA plastics. However, there are models of printers that work with ceramics, aluminum, iron, steel, carbon fiber, etc.
The complexity of the printed objects is unlimited, since the software “slices” the pieces into thousands of two-dimensional layers. The difference from one piece to another will then be given by the printing time, which is greater according to its complexity.
For that, it is only necessary that the object is built before using 3D editing software on the computer, which can be done by anyone who dedicates to modeling or searches on websites that offer thousands of models ready for printing.
Talking about the electronics industry, the greatest goal is to find manners to fit the smaller and thinner size of devices with their functionality. Meanwhile, it typically results in prolonged lead times and outsourcing. However, the advent of 3D printing can create in-house circuit boards reducing manufacturing costs and concern about IP infringement. So the prototyping development is a crucial activity for this market área.
3D printing world
Who has never imagined a printer that prints a thought or a dream? What match on a crossed paper is a real, palpable object that can be used normally, just as it would happen in cartoons? Thanks to Chuck Hull, this is already possible, and 3D printing applications are used worldwide.
But what can we print with a 3D printer? Printing a car, an airplane, or perhaps a house is no longer a distant dream. Here are some simple applications, and others not so much, for this fantastic way of creating the world.
Let’s understand how this magic works.
3D printing, as the name says, is made from a printer that heats and deposits material on a surface embedded in the printer. With the cooling and overlapping of the layers of this material, the object previously illustrated by 3D modeling software is formed. With the shape already modeled three-dimensionally in specific software, the modeling is transferred to the printer software to define the appropriate settings for printing the desired object. Thus the work of the printer begins. This new form of production is used in several ways and areas, as we will see below.
Finally, which areas can we use with a 3D printer? We separated some of the 3D printing that can be obtained with this technological phenomenon:
Entrepreneurship: In times of entrepreneurship, when people are looking for alternatives to get back into the job market, 3D printing has appeared as a solution in several segments. From the manufacture of small parts for machine repair to the manufacture of jewelry, products printed in 3 dimensions are found.
Education: The use of 3D printing in schools and universities is revolutionizing teaching. By creating 3D printing parts, biology and chemistry classes, and even more complex training focused on engineering and medicine, 3D printing has enriched the students’ experience in different subjects and subjects from the academy.
Aerospace: There are also the most complex developments, where 3D printing technology has to stand out. For example, the aerospace industry, a sector in which the highest performance standards are required, was one of the first to adopt additive manufacturing for using parts that withstand exposures to extreme conditions, resistant to heat, humidity, chemicals, and ultraviolet rays. 3D printing offers parts with a variety of sizes, complex and with high performance and resistance. These pieces provide lightness and performance, which are key factors for the sector.
Medicine: 3D printing has revolutionized not only products used in medicine, but also prostheses. It has also changed the way the procedures are carried out. Today it is possible, for example, to simulate orthopedic surgeries from simulations made in 3D printing for perfect adjustments. Not to mention the personalized printing of organs, skin, arteries, or parts of the skeleton, with biocompatible materials, which assist doctors in more accurate and effective procedures.
Dentistry: The 3D solutions for this segment range from orthodontic appliances, through models that replace those previously made in plaster, to dental prostheses, which assist doctors in accurate and effective correction procedures.
In this scenario, not only are the applications innovative but the development of printing technology itself, such as laser stereolithography (SLA), digital light processing (DLP), and Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), promote efficiency and competitiveness to the sector.
Automotive: 3D printing has changed how the automotive sector operates, bringing technology, agility, and competitiveness. If up to two years ago, the electric vehicle sector could print entire engines in 3D, today there are cars fully printed with this technology, indicating that there is a market with many possibilities for this segment. The ease of printing in 3D, when assembling a vehicle, a bumper, or rearview, in the colors that the customer imagined, makes the vehicle gain added value, and the automaker reduces inventories. (read our blog 3D printed car for more information)
How Solidface can help on 3D printed electronics
As we told before, all 3D printing electronics projects must be planned on a good 3D modeling software. This software needs to fit all the requirements, such as:
Units of measurements: All the presented applications involved smaller components and parts that fit the proper device. With SolidFace, this task becomes simple. With the 3D assembly and drawing module, it is possible to create assemblies with built-in standard hardware and parts linked from other projects or libraries. It is also integrated with showcase drawings of parts and assemblies with dimensions, datums, surface finish, and weld symbols, geometric tolerances, notes, tables, balloons, callouts, sheets, and fully configurable drawing properties.
Data Management: Every single modification on the digital design of a 3D printed electronics must be registered to guarantee the final quality and the historical movement. This is another SolidFace advantage – you and your team will always be on the latest design data. Every modification is captured and recorded and can be redone or undo, providing a documented audit trail. Meanwhile, you also have a branching and merging space to produce new ideas to be developed in parallel.
3D part libraries: SolidFace’s software interface has this new online part library features over 100 million part numbers from hundreds of leading component manufacturers and distributors and thousands of ISO, ANSI, DIN, NF, GB, ASME, and more standards.
Teamwork Collaboration: We know that this recent discovering is not a one-person achievement. Many engineers, researchers, and designers are working on huge projects, so we want to help them communicate and work. Our software has a simultaneous workspace where each group member can make your single contribution and, seemingly, with other users and visualize modifications in real-time. With Solidface, it is really easy to share design data with other users keeping everyone focus and willing to succeed.
Are you interested in studying more about 3D printing electronics? How about starting with 3D modeling concepts? We wait to tell you the best part of Solidface. It is a FREE 3D modeling software with free tutorials and support— a powerful ally to engineering students who want to stand out on the 3D printing market.
To summarize, the main advantages of 3D printing are the factors of Speed, Flexibility, and Cost. As we have said throughout this article, for short production runs, prototyping, and hobbies, a 3D printer is a much better manufacturing method than other industrial systems. It is a fact that 3D printed electronics is becoming a reality with promising results. From the production of circuit boards with conductive inks to 3D skin boards, we have a 4.0 industry perspective. It will help many areas like health, education, and, in the long-term, people’s routine lives.
Seeing all these examples, it is simple as easy to believe that everyone will be able to print equipment and everyday items using 3D printing.
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